The Global Taskforce of local and regional governments, beyond Habitat III

Twenty years separate the second (Istanbul, 1996) and third (Quito, 2016) editions of the UN Conference on Human Settlements. In the course of these two long, intense decades local and regional authorities have undertaken a double effort.

First, to improve their articulation and create one single voice to speak to the world. United Cities and Local Governments, UCLG, is the result: a unified organisation, which is also global in scope and focus. UCLG is the engine behind the Global Taskforce of local and regional governments (LRGs) which shall meet in Barcelona next week. ORU Fogar is one of its members.

Second, to build LRGs policy positions and organise their advocacy in the world system. An intense and demanding global agenda, seemingly to never slowing down.

Until now. The Quito conference is finally behind us, and a new, clearer landscape unfolds. Our timely next meeting will undoubtedly try to identify its many challenges. This reflection should help us begin to decide how to organise and deploy our forces and capacities in a way that produces more significant impacts, as this will be the key to achieve formal, institutional recognition. And as I have written elsewhere, the evolution of global processes and institutions seems to be shifting the focus of both practice and scientific enquiry: from a demand for recognition and representation, to effective partnerships for common goals. From having a voice in diplomatic spaces, to participation in a system of governance.

Yet, as local and regional movements were enhancing their global articulation other processes developed, and of no less importance. On the one hand, international governance bodies have restructured, with UN institutions, and notably its economic and social bodies and agencies at the forefront. On the other, the international political space has undergone major transformations, and it welcomes today a wide array of new actors pursuing their own interests, with their own alliances and strategies. A true new multilateral diplomacy is shaped, and we are a part of it.

Five ideas to operate in this new space. 

First: in this participatory (or hyper-participatory, as some authors have described the elaboration of the 2030 agenda) context, it is not the actors’ character and typology that makes a difference, but rather their ability to contribute to the common goals. New forms of diplomacy are not based on delegation and representation. Direct action by stakeholders is favoured. The condition of “actor” is not permanent, but temporarily acquired depending on the matter concerned. Democratic legitimacy is here just an argument –compelling, but not necessarily decisive–: we must also make sure that our contribution is real.

Second: the system is geared towards an inter-institutional and cross-sectoral operation. The quest for institutional recognition must make room for making the strategic results frameworks –such as SDGs– more effective. Effectiveness is here key to guide the insertion of local and regional authorities: joint programming, national policy development dialogue and, most importantly, accurate and timely delivery of results. Effectiveness is multi-level, and therefore informal, inclusive and open to new actors. Again, a system that is less responsive to some of our traditional notions (democratic representation, decentralization, stable inter-governmental relations...).

Third: we should be ready to hear other territorial voices (this is positive) and to welcome national champions (this is necessary). As explained by Chris Swope, the attainment of SDG 11 (the “urban goal”) was the outcome of a joint undertaking by different territorial and environmental networks. Let’s face it: territorial issues are increasingly the matter of global and national concern. If cities and regions are key to provide development, welfare and social cohesion, their role must be built on promoting and participating in wide, change-oriented alliances.

Fourth: regulatory capacity is not exclusive to the world of public intergovernmental organisations. Admittedly, international norms are making significant and most welcomed progress in some issues, notably those related to climate and energy. Yet at the same time other regulatory spaces appear: some are of mixed composition (as the G-20, or the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision), while others are utterly private (as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, or the Clean Clothes Campaign). What is remarkable here is that the effectiveness of these “institutions and innovations”—analysed by authors like Thomas Hale and David Held– does not rely on public authority: it suffices for them to engage the major stakeholders in a given issue-area, or to possess technological capabilities that surpass those of public regulators. Local and regional authorities should consider monitoring and, if necessary, lobbying these new forms of international regulation –and, why not, creating their own.

Fifth idea: against this background, our networks are well positioned to participate and to convey the local and regional authorities’ value. Networks can use to their advantage the mixed nature of our governments: the international activities of LRAs combines features associated with governmental and non-governmental actors, as they actually find themselves in the middle ground between the “two worlds” of international relations: the society of states and the transnational sphere. Networks do not merely unify voices and help build common positions: they reinforce capacities, facilitate peer learning, promote policy and administrative adaptation, and engage in the diffusion of good practice as well as good policies. Our networks are called to create not only the agenda that the local projects to the global, but also new ways of inserting the territorial level of government into the international system.

 

Javier Sánchez Cano

Head of the Planning, monitoring and evaluation unit

DG Development Cooperation, Government of Catalonia

Leader of ORU Fogar's 2030 Work Group

 


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